Dalí went down to Dante’s hell and was accused of being a pornographer


Dalí in front of a painting by Dante.

Dalí in front of a painting by Dante.

TO Salvador Dali fascinated him Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’. “It is a work that attracts me to the point of obsession because in it I find the two aspects of my own life”, he assured in an interview in the magazine ‘Destino’ without revealing, however, what those coincidences were. “I am passionate about the book and I have already built my work mentally,” added the Empordà artist, referring to the commissioned by the Italian Government in 1949 to illustrate a monumental edition of the universal work of the Florentine poet. Dalí took up the challenge and delivered 100 watercolors but the result did not come to light until 1960 and in France because the Italian populist press described it as “State-run pornography”. Now when they are fulfilled 700 years since the death of Dante (1265-1321), a exhibition at the Dalí Theater-Museum in Figueres shows from next Friday, October 8, the photogravures of that one hundred colored illustrations together with seven original drawings, one of them unpublished, which served the painter as preparatory works.

One of the original watercolors that served as preparatory work for Dalí to illustrate Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’. DALÍ / GALA-DALÍ FOUNDATION / VEGAP


Juliette Murphy, curator of the sample, carried out by the Gala-Dalí Foundation in collaboration with the Italian Institute of Culture, gives details of the intrahistory of the failed commission. “A year after delivering the 100 illustrations to the Italian Government, Dalí asked them if they could give him some for an exhibition of his in Rome. There, the reception of the press was lukewarm but while the exhibition traveled to the rest of the country the reactions grew. against. In full postwar period and poverty, and with many political struggles, they criticized that luxury edition by the State and that it was made by an artist other than Italian “. And seeing the brochure for the exhibition that advanced some of the watercolors, “instead of looking at the more classical and mystical illustrations they focused on those that Dalí made of Dante’s Inferno, more linked to his surrealist past.” Faced with those accusations that culminated in that of “pornography”, the Government backed down to “Dalí’s major annoyance.”

Dalí’s illustration for Hell from Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’. DALÍ / GALA-DALÍ FOUNDATION / VEGAP


But the artist removed the thorn five years later, when in 1960 he reached a according to French publisher Joseph Forêt to post a Deluxe Edition of ‘The Divine Comedy’ of 33 copies. Les Heures Claires would edit the popular edition, in French and Italian. “It was printed with techniques that separated the colors in a luminous way and captured the delicacy of the original watercolor,” says Murphy, a specialist in graphic work at the Fundació. Dalí sold the 100 watercolors to Forêt. His whereabouts are unknown today. “Although from time to time one goes up for auction,” says the commissioner. Hence the copies of the exhibition.

Dalí’s illustration for Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’ Purgatory. DALÍ / GALA-DALÍ FOUNDATION / VEGAP


The president of the Fundació, Jordi Mercader, It also points out the coincidence that that commission from Dalí in 1949 was intended to anticipate the commemoration of the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth. The exhibition today, remembering the 700 of death “closes a circle”, he commented at the presentation of the sample at the Italian Institute of Culture of Barcelona, ​​with the presence of its director, Lucio Izzo. Mercader affects the connections between Dalí and Dante. “Both anticipated and incorporated into their work the conception of global knowledge of their society. Dante introduced astrophysics, optics, culture, science … And Dalí does the same in his time, giving a essential turn towards the Renaissance, towards those geniuses of that Italy that obsessed him “, and that also worshiped Dante, with Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and, above all, with Botticelli, who already in the XV century illustrated ‘The Divine Comedy’. In fact, Dalí worked, and scored, with one of the 18th century French editions illustrated by Botticelli.

Another connection, Mercader adds, is the devotion for both women. Dalí’s love for Gala is comparable to Dante for Beatriz, to the point of looking for it, guided by the specter of the poet Virgilio, by a world beyond the grave, traveling through the nine circles of Hell, the nine heavens of Paradise and seeing how souls atone for their sins on the nine cornices of Purgatory.

Dalí’s illustration for Heaven from Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’. DALÍ / GALA-DALÍ FOUNDATION / VEGAP


The first of Dalí’s prints shows Dante alone in a place that Murphy interprets a landscape of his native Empordà. “They both share that sense of identity and connection to their land.” For the curator, the painter relates Hell to his past, while Purgatory is a mixture of past and present, and Paradise refers to his pictorial work of that time. ‘The Divine Comedy’ “is the mirror of Dalí’s spiritual evolution, he thinks. When Italy commissioned him he had just returned from his tour of the United States. I had abandoned surrealism and atheism and done agI go towards mysticism and classicism with his particular vision of the Catholic faith. And he strives to transcend Dante’s text, shows his willingness to be part of the chain of transmission of the poet’s knowledge. “In line with Botticelli.

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